No public input into drilling tests

Activities involved in exploratory drilling for oil and gas will be classified as non-notified discretionary under new EEZ Act regulations, Environment Minister Amy Adams announced.

The new regulations came into effect on Friday and put an end to months of speculation over whether there would be any public input into exploratory drilling.

Ms Adams said the non-notified discretionary classification was the pragmatic option for exploratory drilling, and would provide a level of regulation proportionate to its effects.

"The classification will provide effective oversight and environmental safeguards without burdening industry with excessive costs and timeframes," she said.

Exploratory drilling is the drilling of an offshore well to identify oil or gas deposits under the seafloor, and to evaluate whether they would be suitable for production. It is seen by many as the most risky part of the process.

As part of the marine consent application, operators will need to submit an assessment that identifies impacts on the environment and existing interests. The impact assessment must describe any consultation undertaken with "existing interests".

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will fully assess the effects of the activity on the environment and existing interests. If a marine consent is granted, the EPA can impose conditions to properly manage any adverse effects of the activity.

Obtaining a marine consent to drill an exploratory well does not give the consent holder the right to begin producing oil or gas.

The operator would need to apply for a separate, discretionary marine consent before any production activities could take place. During this stage, the public could make submissions.

The decision for activities involved in exploratory drilling for oil and gas to be classified as non-notified discretionary follows a seven-week consultation period on the draft regulations from December 12 to January 31. Public consultation on the regulation of activities involved in exploratory drilling also occurred last year.

In May the Kaikoura District Council wrote a submission on the Marine Legislation Bill requesting that the non-notified activity status for exploratory drilling be removed from the Supplementary Order Paper.

A further submission was sent in September warning exploratory drilling was the most dangerous form of drilling. In the latest round of submissions, the council again raised the issue, requesting that the non-notified activity status for exploratory drilling be removed from the regulations.

It was unclear in the Act how an existing interest such as the Kaikoura community could gain input if the application was non-notified.

Kaikoura Star